Robertson v. Wegmann

LOCATION: Virginia Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission

DOCKET NO.: 77-178
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 436 US 584 (1978)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1978
DECIDED: May 31, 1978

Edward F. Wegmann - for respondents
Malcolm W. Monroe - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Robertson v. Wegmann

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1978 in Robertson v. Wegmann

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 31, 1978 in Robertson v. Wegmann

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

The opinion in number 77-178, Robertson v. Wegmannwill be delivered by Mr. Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to United State Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Clay Shaw filed a civil rights action against New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, and others involved in the prosecution of Shaw for his alleged in the assassination of President Kennedy.

When Shaw died before trial, his executor sought to be substituted as plaintiff.

The District Court allowed the substitution, holding the Shaw's action did not abate on his death, because Shaw was not survived by one of the close relatives specified in the Louisiana survivorship statute, the Court recognized that his action will abate under State Law.

But the court refused to apply this law and it instead created a Federal common law rule of absolute survival of civil rights actions and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

By an opinion filed today with the clerk, we reverse the Court of Appeals.

Under 42 United States Code, Section 1988, we are required to apply the state survivorship statute to a civil rights action unless the statute is “inconsistent” with Federal Law.

We can find no such inconsistency here.

The advocation of the Louisiana statute who have no independent adverse effect on the policies underlying the civil rights laws, and we can't hold that the statute inconsistent with Federal Law merely because it will cause a particular action to abate.

Mr. Justice Blackmun has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan, and Mr. Justice White joined.